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Spec’ing Shunt Trucks

TORONTO, Ont. - A shunt truck is a seemingly simple piece of equipment. Its sole purpose is to shuttle trailers from one spot to another. But when you think about it, isn't that also the purpose of a ...


ASK BEFORE YOU BUY: Spec'ing shunt trucks for the lowest cost of ownership can be a detailed process. It's best to speak to a knowledgeable dealer to find out how to maximize efficiency in your own operation.
ASK BEFORE YOU BUY: Spec'ing shunt trucks for the lowest cost of ownership can be a detailed process. It's best to speak to a knowledgeable dealer to find out how to maximize efficiency in your own operation.

TORONTO, Ont. –A shunt truck is a seemingly simple piece of equipment. Its sole purpose is to shuttle trailers from one spot to another. But when you think about it, isn’t that also the purpose of a highway tractor -only on a grander scale? So why is it that only a fraction of the attention that goes into spec’ing a highway tractor is usually afforded the lowly shunt truck?

Spec’ing a shunt truck can be every bit as complex as spec’ing a highway rig, notes Mike Hignett of Capacity dealer Glasvan Great Dane.

For starters, customers must decide whether their shunt truck will ever put rubber to pavement anywhere other than the company’s own yard. If the vehicle will be operated on public roads -even just to fuel up or shuttle trailers between facilities -then it must be spec’d with all the emissions controls found on today’s highway tractors.

That’s a costly upgrade, but one that most Canadian customers are willing to pay for the added versatility.

Hignett estimates about 70% of his customers opt for the roadworthy version.

John Uppington, sales manager for Kalmar (maker of Ottawa) shunt trucks at Woodbine Truck Centre, says “Historically, we always sold more of the automotive (on-highway) ones because of the versatility that they have. With a road-legal truck you can go down the street to get fuel and you can use it to reposition trailers between facilities, which is not uncommon.”

Because shunt trucks are powered by the same Cat and Cummins mid-range engines found on medium- duty highway trucks, the emissions controls are also the same. That means exhaust gas recirculation and diesel particulate filters (DPFs) today. Cat will no longer produce road-worthy engines for 2010, but Cummins will use selective catalytic reduction (SCR).

Just where shunt truck manufacturers will mount all the additional components required of SCR remains a mystery, but Uppington assures that it is possible, and that field testing is already underway.

The spec’ing process doesn’t end at selecting an on-or off-road version. Canadian shunt truck dealers tend to offer highly-customized vehicles, capable of handling the harsh environment typical in Canadian operations.

“If you take a truck that is working in the Port of Los Angeles and stick it up here, that truck is not going to last,” points out Hignett. “We spec’ trucks that are going to last longer in the rain, snow, salt and all the stuff they put on the roads nowadays.”

The options for Canadian shunt truck customers are seemingly endless, and many of them stem from discoveries made by Canadian customers and dealers themselves. You can specify: rear air suspensions to reduce wear and tear; driver-controlled traction locks for maintaining grip on snow and ice; trailer counters to measure productivity; and auto greasing systems to reduce maintenance requirements, just to name a few options.

“All the trucks we bring in are custom-ordered,” says Hignett. “We don’t take off-the-shelf trucks because they’re not going to work up here.”

He says Glasvan Great Dane takes pride in the fact it has been recognized by Capacity as offering among the most specialized shunt trucks across the OEM’s dealer network.

“We tell them we have unique customers -there’s no point in bringing up a truck that’s not going to work,” Hignett responds. He says one thrifty customer once made the mistake of buying a shunt truck from a US Capacity dealer, because the price tag was about $10,000 cheaper.

“They spent $15,000 retrofitting it in order for it to work up here,” he adds. “You can get a cheaper truck somewhere, but you’re not going to like yourself in the morning when you do that.”

Among the most recent enhancements to Capacity shunt trucks is a multiplexed wiring system that eliminates the rat’s nest of wires that previously powered its vehicles.

“It used to take a tremendous amount of hours to diagnose electrical problems and it also caused electrical fires,” Hignett recalls of the old system. The current multiplexed wiring eliminates about 60% of the wires and simplifies troubleshooting, he claims.

“You can basically figure out what a problem is within 10 minutes,” says Hignett. “Before, you could spend a whole shift just tracing wires to find out what the problem is.”

Uppington takes pride in a solution Woodbine created for a customer that was suffering landing gear damage due to dropped trailers.

“We were able to devise a system where the fifth wheel would only open when below a certain height,” recalls Uppington. “We do all kinds of stuff like that.”

Dealers have been largely successful in preaching the efficiency benefits of a shunt truck, compared to moving trailers with day cabs -a once-common practice that’s fast becoming obsolete.

“The days of buying a new tractor and putting an elevated fifth wheel on it are virtually gone,” Uppington says.

“We sell shunt trucks to guys who only move two or three trailers a day,” adds Hignett. “The reason they buy it, is that it’s more efficient.”

It’s easy to see why, when you crunch the numbers.

Hignett points out a driver can move five trailers with a shunt truck in the time it takes to move one with a day cab.

A typical shunt truck, meanwhile, consumes just 1.5-2 gallons of diesel per hour whereas a day cab will use about four. A typical shunt truck running 3,000 hours per year can deliver annual fuel savings of $30,000 over a day cab, Hignett explains.

And there are maintenance advantages as well, he adds.

“Everything about a shunt truck is designed for efficiency,” says Hignett. “A day cab is designed to hook up to a trailer and move it across the city or province -it’s designed to be backed up two to five times a day. A shunt truck is designed to be backed up two to five times in a 10-minute span. The components on a Class 8 truck are designed to go forward. All components on a shunt truck are heavy-duty because every minute that truck’s getting slammed into the back of a trailer.”

Even a well-spec’d shunt truck has its limits, however, and a careful driver can greatly extend the vehicle’s life expectancy.

“A lot of drivers get into it, see how heavy-duty everything is and think it’s a battle tank,” says Hignett, painfully recalling a time he visited a customer’s yard only to find drivers having bumper-to-bumper pushing contests during a lunch break. “That kind of stuff will destroy the efficiency of the truck.”

A well cared for shunt truck can last for as much as 40,000-50,000 hours of use, says Hignett. But, he adds “If you don’t maintain the truck, you can throw it in the scrap bin after 5,000 hours.”


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